Episode 9: Amanda Flower

MagicalFirst of all, congratulations to Amanda Flower: earlier this month, she won her first Agatha Award at Malice Domestic for her middle-grade mystery, Andi Unstoppable. With six series underway and a seventh one starting next year, there doesn’t seem to be much that Amanda Flower can’t do.

You can find out more about her at AmandaFlower.com and also here on Facebook, where she loves to chat with her fans.

When we talked about her most recent series, the Magical Bookshop Mysteries, we talked about Emily Dickinson, and I wanted to give a shout-out to the poem we discussed, one of my very favorites. Here’s the full text of Because I could not stop for Death and here’s a link to a charming site, The Emily Dickinson Museum, for those wanting to know more about the poet.

The next book features Edgar Allan Poe, and he, too, has a museum.

If you’d rather read than listen to the interview, simply scroll down for the transcript. Meanwhile, here are her series, in order:Handcrafted

Amish Quilt Shop Mysteries (written as Isabella Alan)

Prequel e-Novella!: Plainly Murder

1 – Murder, Plain and Simple

2 – Murder, Simply Stitched

3 – Murder, Served Simply

4 – Murder, Plainly Read

5 – Murder, Handcrafted

Andi Boggs Mysteries (middle-grade)

1 – Andi Unexpected

2 – Andi Under Pressure

3 – Andi Unstoppable

Appleseed Creek Mysteries (complete)

1 – A Plain Death

2 – A Plain Scandal

3 – A Plain Disappearance

4 – A Plain Malice

India Hayes Mysteries

1 – Maid of Murder

2 – Murder in a Basket

Living History Museum Mysteries

1 – The Final Reveille

2 – The Final Tap

Magical Bookshop Mysteries

1 – Crime and Poetry

2 – Prose and Cons

Transcript for Amanda Flower Interview

Laura Brennan: My guest is USA Today Bestselling author Amanda Flower. Over the past five years, she has published seventeen novels, including the Amish Quilt Shop mystery series, as Isabella Alan.

Her most recent book, Crime and Poetry, launches a new series with a magical touch. She has been nominated for three Agatha Awards, including best first mystery, and this year she won the Agatha for best children’s/young adult novel, Andi Unstoppable.

By day, Amanda is a superhero — I mean, a librarian, my favorite people in the world. Amanda, thank you for joining me.

Amanda Flower: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited.

LB: So first of all, congratulations on your Agatha win!

AF: Thank you. It was incredible, a truly surreal moment. And I cried and I shook, and it was everything you’d imagine winning an award like that would be.

LB: Did you always want to be a writer?

AF: Yes. My first book was Maid of Murder.

LB: So then how did you decide to write about, to write Amish mysteries?

AF: I was pitching ideas to my agent and she didn’t like any of my ideas, some of which I thought are still great. So I said, well, I used to live in Amish country in my early twenties. And her eyes got all big, and she sold the Appleseed Creek series and the Amish Quilt series within a couple months after that. So it was just timing.

LB: One of the things I really like about them is that your heroine in both is not, she’s not Amish. She’s an outsider, but she has deep ties to the community. And there’s a great affection for them, for that community. And I love that you bring a diverse perspective.

AF: Something I learned from living out there is that most people think, Amish — an Amish person’s an Amish person. There wasn’t that much variety. But that’s not true. The Amish are very different between orders and between districts. It’s just what their bishop says that they’re allowed to do, how they interpret their rules. The Amish have a lot of variety.

LB: You have a new one coming out — I cannot believe how prolific you are. You’ve had three books come out this year so far already.

AF: I have! Crime and Poetry came out in April. The Final Tap, which is the second Living History Museum Mystery, which is kind of a tongue twister, came out on May 8th. And the fifth Amish Quilt Shop mystery, Murder, Handcrafted, comes out June 7th. Three in a row, boom, boom, boom.

LB: Can you tell me a little bit about Murder, Handcrafted?

AF: Sure. Murder, Handcrafted is the fifth book in the Amish Quilt Shop mystery series, that I write as Isabella Alan for Penguin. And in this book, my protagonist, Angie, is solving a murder of an electrician, and he gets electrocuted unfortunately. The twist of the murder is that people are seeing Bigfoot around the Amish town, so now people think maybe Bigfoot had something to do with the murder, even though it was an electrocution, so it’s very unlikely Bigfoot did that. You would not believe how long it took me to convince my editor that I could put Bigfoot in an Amish mystery, but she finally, she finally went for it. Because I just thought, first of all, it would be hysterical. And I like to put something funny, especially in this series, for each book. And second of all, it’s immediate conflict because there’s all these people coming into Holmes County that are like Bigfoot enthusiasts, so they embrace the paranormal, they embrace the strange and weird. And then the Amish are the complete opposite. They have no interest in that. In fact, they think it’s wrong to think that supernatural things exist. So to have — of course they’re immediately in conflict, and I couldn’t resist. And there’s a lot of hijinks because now they have to go find Bigfoot plus solve a murder, so it’s a super-fun book and I’m looking forward to people reading it.

LB: That is so fun. Your Magical Bookshop series, that’s a brand-new series, but that’s also, that’s quite a different take for you from what you’ve been doing before. It’s got sort of a magical realism touch to it.

AF: Well, that one came about, my editor at Penguin wanted to start a new series with me. And I gave her an idea for a beach seashell shop mystery set in Florida. And she said that she loved it, but she said, why don’t you make it a magical bookshop somewhere else in the United States. So, I was like, okay… And her and I, even though we both wanted to do it, we were very — we talked a lot on the phone and we were very careful how I was going to present my magic because of the fact that I write for Inspirational and also I write a lot of Amish fiction. So the magic in my book is based on spiritualism and Native American folklore. There’s no witches or werewolves or that kind of creature. So we were very thoughtful how we did it. And I just, I’m so excited that they gave me the opportunity to write it because I’ve always kind of wanted to write a fantastical story, but I just didn’t think it would ever happen because in publishing, once you get on a path, sometimes publishers are reluctant to get you, you know, take you off-brand. So, this is kind of, I wouldn’t say directly off-brand because it’s still a funny, cozy mystery, but it’s definitely — I took kind of a left-hand turn, but I’m still writing Amish, so I’ll get back onto my main track, too. But it’s super-fun and my core readers who are people that love Amish and love Christian Fiction have written me and said, you know, I really didn’t want to read this book. I don’t like supernatural, magical books, but I read it because you wrote it and you did such a great job and I could see, you know, it still has the worldview that you have, like a Christian worldview in it. And, you know, they’re just so grateful. And I’m so glad, maybe I introduced them to a new genre.

LB: It’s not just — See, your magic is special because it’s the magic of words.

AF: Aww, thanks.

LB: And I have to ask you — this isn’t a spoiler, because it’s the first really thing that happens in the book. Your poem, the poem you chose from Emily Dickinson, “Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.” It is so perfect!

AF: I know!

LB: Which came first — which came first? Did you find the poem and then decide Benedict would be a carriage driver and the plot rose from there? Or did you come up with the plot and then the poem just magically appeared?

AF: It was definitely, I came up with the plot first and the poem magically appeared. Because I kept going through different authors that I would use their work as the clues to solve the crime. Because that’s how my protagonist solves the crime, it’s the, her magical bookshop reveals clues to her about the murder through literature. So in the first book it’s Emily Dickinson. But I went through several authors. Nobody was working. So I went back to my Norton Anthology from college because I was an English major. And I’m flipping through it and it falls open to Emily Dickinson and I was like, oh my gosh, I had to memorize this poem in college called, “Because I could not stop for Death.” And I was like, Ah! There’s a carriage driver in it! Oh my gosh! Like, it was definitely one of those moments like, holy smokes, this is amazing. And everything fell together. And after that I was definitely able to write the rest of the book because, you know, with Emily, all her poems, there was so much to choose from. It was hard to pick other poems to use because there were so many options.

LB: That’s fantastic. That — you had your own Magical Bookshop moment.

AF: I did! I truly did!

LB: Well, I love, also, you have that charming moment where Violet convinces — it’s just a little aside, it has nothing to do with the main plot, it’s just a little scene — where Violet convinces the little girl to let the books choose her.

AF: Yeah.

LB: Oh, that was so marvelous.

AF: Yeah, that’s what I love about being a public librarian now. It’s that, you know, a reader comes up to me and they say, I’m looking for a book like… And it’s just like being asked to introduce someone to their future spouse or something. It’s just an amazing thing. And when they walk away with their pile of books and they’re so happy and cheerful and you just know that they’re going to have this amazing moment where they connect with the story, it’s great. And as an author, you know, to see that and think that somewhere in some place, someone else is having that moment with something that I wrote. Like, it brings tears to my eyes. That’s why I do this.

LB: Well, I was going to ask you what the most fun part about being a librarian was, but you just nailed that, right?

AF: Right!

LB: Now, the next book in that series, in the Magical Bookshop series comes out this December and that’s going to be Edgar Allan Poe.

AF: Yes.

LB: Again, did Poe come first, or did you go find him once you had the idea for the plot in mind?

AF: In this case, Poe came first. Because once I chose Emily Dickinson, I decided all the books were going to be 19th Century American, New England authors. Funny enough, my protagonist is getting a PhD in that, and I don’t even know why it didn’t occur to me to choose those kinds of writers in the first place for the magical clues, but it’s just one of those subconscious things, I think. But, yeah, Poe came first. Originally, the book was going to come out in October, and in publishing release dates get shuffled around all the time. So, when I thought it was coming out in October, I was like, well, Poe is perfect for a Halloween-set book. In that one, Violet is solving a murder of a person in a writers group. Which was super-fun to write because I think all writers have been in a writers group with maybe people that are a little more forceful or opinionated than necessary. So there’s a lot of suspects because it’s a big writers group and it was so much fun to write. And Violet, in the book, also is dealing with her feelings between her two male leads, too, and I don’t know — she’s on the brink of making a decision. But you’ll have to see what she decides.

LB: Okay, well, I know who I’m rooting for, but I won’t say.

AF: Okay!

LB: I also want to talk to you about your middle grade novels. You’re just trying all sorts of wonderful new things.

AF: Well, the first book in the children’s series came out in 2013 and that was Andi Unexpected, and I wrote it actually in 2005 while I was waiting — you know, Maid of Murder was on its rejection tour as I like to say. It got rejected probably 40 times before it got published, which is not unusual for a first novel. And so I, just, the story wouldn’t let me go about this 12-year-old girl, and I finally was like, well, I need to do something while I wait. So I wrote it and then set it aside. And years later, after I was established, I sent it to my agent. I said, hey, I have this middle grade mystery, can you try to sell it? It’s definitely a book I never thought would get published, I certainly didn’t think all three books would be nominated for Agathas, and I certainly didn’t think I would ever win an Agatha for a children’s book. So it, it’s kind of a miracle how that all fell into place and all I can be is grateful for everything.

LB: I know a lot of parents, as a parent myself, I am always looking for the right book for my kids, so who would be, who would devour this book?

AF: I would say the perfect reader is like a third or fourth grader, a girl or a boy. It’s told from the girl’s perspective, but her best friend Colin, Andi’s best friend is also a main character and they are together almost the entire book, all three books, trying to solve these crimes. You know, one reason that I wanted to write it so much is, when I was a kid, there wasn’t much, other than Nancy Drew, there wasn’t much chapter book or middle grade fiction that was mystery for kids, and I just loved mystery. So I was reading Patricia Cornwell and Sue Grafton when I was like, ten or eleven. Which is okay, I mean, I’m fine. But I just know for some parents, maybe they don’t want their kid to be reading that violent stuff too early. So, it’s just another option, but they still get to figure out the mystery. I think that there’s some kids, and of course adults too, that just love that puzzle aspect of mystery fiction, and I do, too. And I’ve loved it since an early age, so I wanted to just offer something for that age group.

LB: You bring up an interesting point when you said that it’s from a girl’s perspective but boys will like it, too. When I was a kid, there was always the sense that a boy would never read anything with a girl in it. But I don’t believe that’s true anymore. Have you seen a shift?

AF: I have. I think the shift, like the series like Hunger Games and Divergent and things like that, like these big, blockbuster YA books that everybody’s reading, you know, guys are reading those, too. So I think it’s making them more open to female protagonists, female authors. So I think that’s a wonderful thing. And I have gotten some reader e-mail from, you know, 10-year-old boys who’ve read the books and they say, you know, sometimes they’ll write me and say, oh, can you write one from, you know have Colin tell the story and stuff. So, I mean, I’m sure that would be their preference, but they’re still reading them and they’re still enjoying them. In the case of Andi, she’s very much a tomboy kind of character, so I think for boys, it’s easier for them to her, as opposed, if she was like, a frilly-frilly kind of girl, which she’s not.

LB: I know that the Appleseed Creek mysteries have ended, right? It’s three and done, correct?

AF: It’s four and done. Yeah.

LB: It’s four and done, I’m sorry. Four and done.

AF: So the Appleseed Creek series has definitely been my most popular. Readers write to me about it constantly. They want more and I love that they do. The last book in the series was A Plain Malice. And the series is about Chloe Humphrey, who just finished graduate school and she can’t find a job and she takes the only job she’s been offered which is in Ohio’s Amish country at a small college. Now, I described myself the exact same way. And, that’s exactly true. So at least in that vein, Chloe and I are the same. So, I was also in my early twenties and I couldn’t find a job, so I ended up in Amish country. Other than that, I’ve never found a dead body and I’ve never interacted with an Amish community as much as she has. But she does live in Knox County, where I lived, and while she’s there, the first thing that happens is she runs across this Amish girl that’s being harassed by a couple of bullies. And she takes her in because she finds out that Becky Troyer, this Amish girl, has run away from the Amish, and she wants to join English society, which is the Amish word for non-Amish. Unfortunately, while Chloe is at work, Becky borrows her car, and Becky being Amish can’t drive and doesn’t have a license, and she gets in an accident and kills her former Amish bishop. So that’s the first book, and of course Chloe has to solve the crime. There’s also Timothy, who’s Becky’s brother, who helps Chloe solve the crime and who also becomes her love interest. I get lots of fan mail from my readers about how much they love Timothy. So he’s turned into a little bit of a heartthrob, I would say, in my cannon of characters. So, from there, A Plain Scandal is the next book, and then A Plain Disappearance, and then A Plain Malice. And through the four books you see how Chloe and Timothy’s relationship grows and changes, which, it’s a little bit turbulent, because he grew up Amish and she is very independent, pretty much grew up on her own because of her family situation. So, they have some trouble connecting, but you’ll have to see at the end if they work it out.

LB: Well, you have more than one heartthrob in your series.

AF: (Laughter) Thank you.

LB: And I am thinking about the Magical Bookshop, yes, while I say that.

AF: Yes, I do have a bit of a crush on one of those characters myself. You can probably guess which one.

LB: You also have a Living History Museum series.

AF: Yes.

LB: This would appeal to your same core reader?

AF: Yeah, I think so. And it also kind of branches out into people that like Historic Fiction. The first book is called The Final Reveille, and it’s about a Civil War reenactment. And one of the people at the reenactment gets murdered, of course. And my protagonist is Kelsey Cambridge. And she’s the museum director, so she has to solve the crime to save her museum. And then the second book, which just came out in May, is The Final Tap. And it’s about a maple sugaring festival. We have a lot of those in Ohio in early March when the trees are being tapped. And a maple sugar expert gets murdered, and again it’s on Kelsey’s farm, on museum grounds, so she has to solve the crime again. That series, the big difference for my main character is that she’s a single mom. She has a five-year-old son, and I really wanted to do that to show how possibly a woman could juggle being, you know, a high position and a director of a museum plus being a sleuth, plus being, you know, a single mom, which is a lot to juggle. She does have a lot of help from her father and her best friend and, you know, everyone in the museum kind of pitches in and takes care of her son, Hayden, but — and then, also, it adds a level of conflict because she’s having a custody battle with her ex-husband over Hayden. Which I also wanted to include just because I think it’s important to show that not every life is 100% easy. And there’s things that, even when you’re an amateur sleuth, that are impacting your life and how you navigate through it. So it’s my first character that’s been a mom and that’s been really fun to write, even though I’m not a mom myself.

LB: Well, what is the most fun thing for you about the writing?

AF: I think the most fun thing is – I guess there’s two. There’s that moment when I initially have an idea, such as when that book fell open to an Emily Dickinson poem. And I feel that — I can’t even describe it. It’s truly a magical feeling when I feel like, oh my gosh, I’m on the brink of something, and I’m on the brink of understanding who these people are and what this story is. So it’s even before writing, it’s the moment before the action of writing. And then the second best part is finishing the novel and turning it in and getting that receipt e-mail from my publisher that we’ve received it, taking a breath. And before I — you know, I write so many books, last year I wrote five, so to have a day where I’m just like, oh, I don’t have to write today. Whew! And then, before the cycle begins again. There’s that, kind of a moment of peace, that I just love.

LB: Oh, that’s fantastic. What did I miss? What else would you like to talk about?

AF: I guess the only, the last thing I would say is, I would not be in this position where I’m writing so many books and having so many books and winning Agatha Awards and having really an amazing life if it weren’t for the readers. The fact that they continually choose to read not just my books but cozy mysteries is amazing and I’m so grateful and I know that the cozy mystery authors are so grateful for how dedicated our fans are to the genre. So I would just say thank you and we appreciate you and come find me on Facebook, I’m very easy to find. And I love to talk to my readers as the people who follow me on Facebook know and I always respond to whatever questions, it might take me a little bit, but I will get back to you.

LB: Well that’s fantastic and I will link to your Facebook page in the shownotes.

AF: Thank you!

LB: Thank you so much, Amanda, for joining me today.

AF: I had so much fun!